Category Archives: Disaster Assistance

Presbyterians aid vulnerable Puerto Ricans threatened with displacement

One Great Hour of Sharing gifts help deedless residents secure their longtime homes

By Pat Cole | Presbyterian News Service | Photos by Rich Copley

The original article may be found here.

Mariolga Juliá-Pacheco, coordinator of special projects for the Martin Peña Channel Land Trust, leads a tour for staff members of the Compassion, Peace & Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

LOUISVILLE — Even before flooding from Hurricane Maria destroyed their home’s contents in 2017, Waleska García Castro and her family faced a human-made threat that could have caused them an even greater disruption.

This family, along with others residing near the Martin Peña Channel in San Juan, Puerto Rico, did not have a deed to their dwelling, and they were looking at the possibility of displacement.

This threat stemmed from plans to dredge the polluted channel and make other improvements to the waterway. Consequently, property values would likely increase dramatically in this community near San Juan’s financial district, airport and universities. The land would be ripe for speculation and gentrification, and the deedless residents could be forced to leave. Some families have lived in this community for five generations.

García Castro and other community members are implementing a strategy that will enable them to remain in their homes and enjoy the benefits of the revitalized canal. One Great Hour of Sharing gifts are supporting this effort.

The community formed the Martin Peña Channel Land Trust, which has acquired title to a 200-acre tract that is home to 1,500 families. While the trust owns the land, individuals can obtain deeds that give them surface rights to their homes.

The property protections give García Castro a feeling of “security” and “tranquility,” she said. “Our community is secured for future generations.”

García Castro lives with her parents and a niece. She works as a nail technician and is a land trust board member. “I have been here all of my life,” she said. “These are my people.”

While determined to keep their homes, community members said they do not oppose the channel’s revitalization.

“We want to get the channel back, but we don’t want this to be at the expense of our displacement,” said Lyvia Rodríguez, executive director of the land trust. “We want to be in control of our future, and we want to be here.”

One Great Hour of Sharing gifts are helping residents along the Martin Peña Channel in Puerto Rico remain in their homes and enjoy the benefits of a revitalized channel.

The land trust, she explained, “will ensure that a new generation of residents have the opportunity to live along a restored Martín Peña Channel.” The community will own the land in perpetuity, but residents may transfer ownership of their houses through inheritance or sale. In addition to securing land rights, the land trust aspires to tackle other problems, such as sporadic electrical service, mosquito infestations, inadequate transportation and food insecurity.

The community is still reeling from the damage inflicted by Hurricane Maria. “In the hurricane, over 1,000 houses lost their roofs, and 75 houses were destroyed,” said Mariolga Juliá-Pacheco, special projects coordinator for the land trust. “We were able to supply tarps, first aid supplies, food and water.”

While land trust leaders are excited about improving the community’s quality of life, Juliá-Pacheco said there is still much work to do to ensure that residents acquire surface rights deeds. She emphasizes that the One Great Hour of Sharing grant is helping to accomplish this. A community facilitator, whose salary is partially paid by the grant, is helping families through the tedious process of acquiring deeds for their homes.

Without this guidance, some families would struggle to prove their eligibility for a deed and complete the paperwork needed to obtain one, Juliá-Pacheco said. “You may have been living in your house without papers for 60 years, and suddenly you need to have them. It’s a long process. You need accompaniment.”

All three Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) ministries supported by One Great Hour of Sharing gifts — Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, the Presbyterian Hunger Program and Self-Development of People — are working alongside the land trust.

Juliá-Pacheco hopes the work of the land trust will be a model for other communities in Puerto Rico. The threat of gentrification, she noted, looms large as new construction projects emerge in the aftermath of the hurricane. Some Puerto Ricans are afraid they can no longer afford to live in the communities that have been their home for years, she said. “It’s really a big fear in communities across the island.”

Yet the support of One Great Hour of Sharing has helped assuage these fears for families protected by the land trust, Juliá-Pacheco said. “We are grateful for the generous giving and for this grant.”

In most Presbyterian congregations, the One Great Hour of Sharing offering is received on Palm Sunday or Easter Sunday.


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Presbyterian Disaster Relief Project

When a tornado, flood, or hurricane devastates a community, people scramble to deal with the chaos and recover. They need practical help – fast.

You can make a difference by contributing items for hygiene kits.

Each hygiene kit in a one-gallon zip lock bag includes:

  • 1 hand towel
  • 1 washcloth
  • 1 wide tooth comb (removed from package)
  • 1 nail clipper (removed from package)
  • 1 bar of soap (unscented bath size in wrapper)
  • 1 toothbrush (in original packaging)
  • 10 Band-Aids (one-inch size preferred)

An opportunity to join with Mid-Kentucky Presbytery in their mission drive to collect supplies for 1,500 disaster relief kits. They will be shipped to a distribution storage facility, ready to help when the next natural disaster strikes.

Drop off hygiene supplies and completed kits:

Fairlawn Presbyterian Church any time before May 4th,
2611 Fairlawn Drive Columbus, IN 47203
Phone 812-372-1489

Monday, May 13, 2019, from 10 AM to noon
at Beulah Presbyterian Church, 6704 Bardstown Road Louisville, KY
Phone 502-239-3231.

For more information, please call the above numbers.

Four PDA spiritual care providers now serving in fire, shooting affected California

Originally published on the Presbyterian Mission site here.

More help will materialize once deadly fires are out

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

A firefighter sprays water as part of efforts to put out fire in Southern California. (Courtesy of Los Angeles County)

LOUISVILLE – While the deadliest fires ever to strike California continue to burn, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance has deployed four National Response Team members to Southern California, where residents are enduring both a mass shooting and the Woolsey and Hill fires.

They’re serving as Disaster Spiritual Care Providers, working in American Red Cross shelters in Pacific Palisades and the San Fernando Valley. In the wake of the Camp Fire, PDA has approved an initial $7,500 grant to the Presbytery of Sacramento; grant requests are also anticipated from Santa Barbara and Pacific presbyteries, said Jim Kirk, associate for PDA’s National Disaster Response.

Together with the Rev. Jim Kitchens, transitional executive presbyter for the Presbytery of Sacramento, Kirk worshiped Sunday at Bidwell Presbyterian Church in Chico, Calif., a half-hour west of the nearly destroyed community of Paradise, Calif.

“Chico didn’t lose any property, but a number of members who lived in Paradise lost their homes,” Kitchens said.

Kitchens is perhaps uniquely qualified to help fire-affected people of faith: He’s been pastor at two separate churches that suffered fires.

“I deeply understand the kind of trauma that living through a fire brings to a congregation,” he said Tuesday. “There is some pastoral sensitivity I try to take with me, knowing what old traumas can trigger in people. Clearly this was a church in shock.”

“The Camp Fire is truly historic,” PDA’s Kirk said. “Everybody is going to know somebody” impacted by the fire, which had as of Tuesday killed 42 people and led to 53,000 people being evacuated, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

With fires still raging in both Northern and Southern California, it’s unsafe for PDA personnel to travel currently in the impacted areas. “We are early responders, but not first responders,” Kirk said. “Our goal is to stay out of the way. Once it is safe and appropriate, PDA can come in to work with presbyteries and congregations to develop response plans.”

In the Presbytery of Santa Barbara, fires ignited Nov. 8, a day after a gunman killed 12 people in a country music bar in nearby Thousand Oaks. “The fires are a way of life, unfortunately, but shooting is not,” said Sandy Thoits, Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of Santa Barbara. “People who are grieving had to be evacuated.” To date, 84,000 people have been evacuated because of the Woolsey Fire, which as of Tuesday was responsible for two deaths and three injuries, according to FEMA.

PDA expects to approve a grant in support of people affected by the violence.

The Rev. Dr. Kate Wiebe, a pastor at large in the Presbytery of Santa Barbara and the executive director of the Institute for Collective Trauma and Growth, is working with people hurt by tragedies of both fire and violence.

“The shootings and the fire occurred within 24 hours. For those folks, they are very entwined, so you can’t separate it out,” Wiebe said. “People are overwhelmed and distraught. They’re experiencing a wide range of emotions and reactions.”

Mass shootings “bring out issues of blame and anger in a way that natural disasters don’t always do,” she said.

Like firefighters who are increasingly called upon year-round to battle fires in the wildland urban interface, second responders like Wiebe are seeing less and less down time.

“In terms of groups being stretched thin, many disaster response groups find it difficult to find mental health and spiritual care providers,” she said. “They are needed in so many places right now.”

Indeed, Kirk said, presbytery staff in parts of fire-affected California “say that they are starting to have conversations about this may be the new normal” because of factors including climate change and drought. “This is raising a lot of concern for people who have to live in areas where fire is possible.”

“I hope the denomination will be prayerful and generous,” Kirk said, “in their support of our Presbyterian family who are still in harm’s way.”

To donate, visit https://pma.pcusa.org/donate/make-a-gift/gift-info/DR000165. To give by phone, call 800-872-3283. To send a check, designate where you want your gift to go on the memo line and mail to: Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), P.O. Box 643700, Pittsburgh, PA 15264-3700.


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Disaster Assistance for Communities impacted by Hurricanes and Typhoons

Do not fear, for I am with you

Do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you.(Isaiah 41:10)

Hurricane Florence and Typhoon MangkhutPresbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) is offering immediate aid to the communities impacted by Hurricane Michael. This joins responses already underway for those impacted by Hurricane Florence, Typhoon Mangkhut, and other international disasters that have suffered a lack of media coverage.

Hurricane Michael struck the Florida panhandle with devastating winds and storm surge, causing loss of life. The storm then cut a path across the southeast, moving through the same areas impacted by Hurricane Florence just a few weeks ago.

PDA is deploying teams to affected presbyteries. Emergency aid, assistance in the development of a short-term response plan, as well as a ministry of presence will be the priorities of the initial response.

Meanwhile, areas impacted by Mangkhut and Florence have received aid and support through the gifts of Presbyterians like you. In humility, with God and your continued support, we will continue to help draw hope out of the chaos, together.

Will you stand in the “GAP” (Give/Act/Pray) to help the survivors of these terrible storms?

GIVE: Hurricanes Michael and Florence and Typhoon Mangkhut have caused extensive damage and loss of life. Some of you have already given generously in previous weeks. While the needs can feel overwhelming, continued prayer and giving will ensure that the whole church is able to respond. Gifts to DR000194 support our response to hurricanes and typhoons. Gifts can be made online, by phone at (800) 872-3283, or by check, which can be mailed to Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), P.O. Box 643700, Pittsburgh, PA 15264-3700.
>ACT:

  • Download and use the bulletin insert.
  • Learn how you and your congregation can help families who have lost everything in the devastation. Stay informed and like us on Facebook, download resources, and share updates with your congregation.

PRAY:As this hurricane and typhoon season continues to cause destruction and loss of life, please pray with us that the communities affected by these events and those offering assistance will be strengthened, have their needs met and be reminded of the hope found in God.

Support the emergency response and recovery from Hurricane Florence

God is our refuge and strength
Therefore, we will not fear … though the waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble. —Psalm 46

The path of Hurricane Florence.Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) urges your support for those affected by Hurricane Florence. PDA is delivering immediate aid to those impacted by the storm on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. Initial assessment suggests catastrophic destruction, but the full scope of the damage will not be known for many months.

The storm’s path is cutting across areas still recovering from Hurricane Matthew (2016). While these winds and waters have meant loss and destruction, the work of PDA might become, as the psalmist says, “a river whose streams make glad the city of God.”

PDA is deploying teams to affected presbyteries to meet with Presbyterian and community leadership to assist in coordinating relief efforts and mucking out homes and churches. After initial needs are addressed, PDA will remain — providing spiritual and emotional care and long-term recovery to address the unmet needs of those impacted. Through your prayerful gifts, we draw hope out of the chaos.

The needs for the response are great. God’s people are once again called on to stand in the “GAP” — Give. Act. Pray.

Give: Financial support for relief efforts can be designated to DR000169, which supports the church’s response to hurricanes impacting the U.S. Gifts can be made online, by phone at (800) 872-3283, or by check, which can be mailed to Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), P.O. Box 643700, Pittsburgh, PA 15264-3700.

Act: Learn how you and your congregation can help families who have lost everything in the devastation. Stay informed and like us on Facebook, download resources and share updates with your congregation.

Pray: God of our life, whose presence sustains us in every circumstance, in the aftermath of storm and distress, we welcome the restoring power of your love and compassion. We open our hearts in sorrow, gratitude and hope: that those who have been spared nature’s fury as well as those whose lives are changed forever by ravages of wind and water may find solace, sustenance and strength in the days of recovery and reflection that come.

We are thankful for the grace of days of preparation as Hurricane Florence approached; for the counsel of experts and the generous collaboration of so many communities, that in the face of the storm kept many out of harm’s way and lessened the effects of wind and water on others.

At the same time, we open ourselves to the stories of those for whom this storm was not a near miss: communities deeply affected, some still struggling to recover from Hurricane Matthew, whose livelihood, homes and stability have been destroyed. We lift our voices in sorrow and compassion for families who have lost homes or livelihood.

We ask for sustaining courage for those who are suffering; wisdom and diligence among agencies and individuals assessing damage and directing relief efforts; and for generosity to flow as powerfully as rivers and streams, as we, your people, respond to the deep human needs emerging in the wake of the storm.

In these days of relief, assessment and response, open our eyes, our hearts and our hands to the needs of your children and the movements of your Spirit, who flows in us like the river whose streams make glad the city of God, and the hearts of all who dwell in it, and in You.

In the name of Christ the Healer we pray. Amen.

Rev. Dr. Laurie Ann Kraus, director
Presbyterian Disaster Assistance

Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico continue long road to recovery one year after hurricanes

Rebuilding process is slow, but resilience is strong

by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — It’s been a year since a trio of hurricanes wreaked havoc on Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, leaving a path of destruction, major power outages and many people without homes. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria in quick succession, pummeled their targets over several days late last summer.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Red Cross and other disaster recovery organizations, including Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA), have made strides in the past 12 months, but much work remains.

Hurricane Harvey’s aftermath as seen in Port Aransas, Texas. (Photo by Rick Jones)

In Texas, work continues to repair homes and businesses damaged by Harvey’s wrath. Last fall, a PDA delegation visited presbyteries and churches impacted by the storm, including the First Presbyterian Church in Dickinson.

Harvey left several feet of water in the church and parked an ice chest and boat at the church door. While the cleanup has been long and difficult, Pastor Kathy Sebring says it’s also been a blessing.

“We’ve had challenges and still do, but it’s actually presented an opportunity of rebirth for us,” said Sebring. “Before Harvey hit, we were a very small congregation and had no new members. Harvey came and washed all of that away.”

For the first two Sundays after Harvey, the congregation worshipped outdoors and, according to Sebring, it drew people in who were looking for help and a church.

Sebring says a church in West Virginia provided money for new chairs and donated a baby grand piano. Another church provided hymnals and Bibles.

“We’ve had six new members since April and one adult baptism. Prior to the hurricane, we hadn’t seen anyone join the church in over five years and there hadn’t been a baptism in 10 years,” she said. “Members were resistant to reaching out, thinking they weren’t big or strong enough. Now it’s not even in their vocabulary. God gives us the wherewithal to do it. This congregation is so on fire. The hurricane was a terrible thing but probably the biggest blessing that God could have given to us.”

Workers unload food and other supplies at Mision Peniel in Immokalee, Florida. (Photo courtesy of Mision Peniel)

Florida continues the recovery, not only from Irma but from previous hurricanes.

“It’s been slow. Around the state, we have several long-term recovery groups that have formed in the wake of Irma,” said Kathy Broyard with Florida Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Network (FLAPDAN.) “Volunteers are coming, but not as many as we would like. The number of workers in Florida is down as many headed to Texas and Puerto Rico after Harvey and Maria. We’re not complaining. Things are moving.”

Broyard says there are many homes still covered in blue tarps and recovery groups are working to keep things dry until volunteers can arrive to help make repairs.

“There are a few churches that are planning mission trips here,” she said. “In Monroe County, in the Keys, they are moving ahead quickly to provide volunteer housing. We’re trying to get the word out that we still need help here. Folks who have been impacted are fearful of the next storm that comes through.”

Damage from Hurricane Maria can still be seen some 60 days later along the western coast of Puerto Rico in the town of Mayaguez. (Photo by Rick Jones)

In Puerto Rico, most power has been restored across the island, but there are still areas where power doesn’t last long. From the sky, blue tarps can be seen dotted across the communities, still waiting for repairs. The government this week released new information on the death toll from Maria, saying nearly 3,000 people died as a result of the storm.

“From what we’ve seen and heard, a lot of people are tired. They feel that they haven’t had a lot of time to rest or to take care of themselves,” said the Rev. Edwin González-Castillo, PDA consultant working on Puerto Rico’s recovery. “I still hear about people needing beds, refrigerators and basic necessities. Power is going out almost weekly in different areas which impacts stoves, microwaves or refrigerators.”

González-Castillo says it puts a lot of pressure on the churches. Many pastors, who are part time and holding down other jobs, find themselves working around the clock to meet the needs of their members.

Families are still living in rough conditions and are concerned about when the next storm will hit.

“I’ve talked with one family that got new beds, but their roof still leaks. When it rains, their beds get damaged, and they must be replaced again,” said González-Castillo. “There’s that moment where you can’t handle it anymore and it’s created a desperate situation for families, the economy, government, and schools.”

To make matters worse, González-Castillo says trailers loaded with spoiled food and supplies have been found that were never delivered. Hundreds of bodies have never been claimed either because families have left the island or can’t afford to bury them.

Despite the slow recovery, González-Castillo says Presbyterian churches are stronger and more organized to meet the needs of their congregations. Volunteer groups continue to come in and assist with home repairs. Next month, PDA will send another delegation to the region to visit with churches and discuss future support efforts.

“PDA has been working in partnership with our Presbyterian sisters and brothers in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico in the initial response and now in the long-term recovery,” says Jim Kirk, associate for disaster response in the U.S. “As a result of the generosity of our denomination, PDA will be able to support the ongoing recovery. It is hoped that through additional gifts that support can last even longer.”

—–

Click here to read PDA’s response to the hurricanes over the last year.

To support hurricane recovery efforts, click here. You’ll be taken to the PC(USA) website to donate securely and quickly.

If you prefer to mail a check (please write “DR000194” on the memo line), you may send it to:
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
P.O. Box 643700
Pittsburgh, PA 15264-3700

You may also call 800-872-3283 Monday Through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Eastern time), and donate by phone.


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Presbyterian churches reach out to communities affected by California wildfires

Thousands of acres burned, homes and businesses destroyed as flames spread

by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service

Smoke from the Thomas Fire obscures the midday sun in Upper Ojai, California. (Photo by Tim Nafzinger)

LOUISVILLE — It’s been a week since wildfires broke out in southern California and the fires are still raging out of control. There are currently six separate wildfires burning. The Thomas fire, which started in Ventura County, is the worst of the six and is now the fifth-largest wildfire in California history, according to fire officials. Approximately 50,000 additional acres burned on Sunday in the area. Low humidity, accompanied by the Santa Ana winds are making matters worse.

“There are a wide range of problems. There’s still the issue of making sure everyone is safe, especially those in the evacuation zones,” said Katie Wiebe, executive director of the Institute for Congregational Trauma and Growth, in the Presbytery of Santa Barbara. “It has impacted six churches and we have members and staff that are in evacuation zones or affected by smoke and ash.”

Wiebe says some church members have lost homes and there is a high need for counselors to help with insurance issues and assessing needs.

“The urgency has expanded. The area is familiar with fires but nothing to this extent, so it has been overwhelming for people” she said. “First Presbyterian Church of Santa Barbara has been keeping its pre-school open because some of the children’s parents are first responders or are actively involved in supporting relief efforts such as counseling centers or the Red Cross.”

More than 5,500 firefighters from California and surrounding states have been battling the blazes.  Emergency officials report as many as 230,000 acres have burned and more than 800 structures have been destroyed or damaged by the fast-spreading flames.  At last count, authorities say at least 200,000 residents have been forced to evacuate.

Jeff Holland pastors the Ojai Presbyterian Church located in the middle of the Thomas fire area.

“We were in a mandatory evacuation zone until Saturday evening and then were allowed to return. We held services on Sunday,” he said. “For the most part, the congregation has fared well. We have a large youth group and many of their families are not involved in church. Some of them lost their homes so we have started a fund to help.”

Holland says the air quality has been “horrific” and the people have been stressed.

“We had about half of our normal attendance on Sunday. A lot of families are still evacuated or haven’t come back yet because of air quality, but the feel of the services was good,” he said. “People really wanted to come together and see how they could respond as a faith community. The former county fire chief is a member of our congregation and he briefed us on what was going on and everyone was appreciative.”

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance has been in constant contact with the three impacted presbyteries; San Fernando, Pacific and Santa Barbara, providing initial grants for emergency needs.

“We’ve talked about deployment in our initial conference calls and it is still on the table, but not at this time,” said Jim Kirk, PDA’s associate for national disaster response. “Things are still unfolding and our being there would just add one more car to the road and one more hotel room taken out of inventory.”

Kirk says PDA is prepared to deploy a National Response Team if needed to consult with the presbyteries including assessment, emotional and spiritual care support.

Wiebe says church leaders are tired, but still working to reach and meet the needs of their congregations.

“Pastors are holding up as well as can be expected. There’s a lot of comradery and genuine spirit of helpfulness,” she said. “Some pastors are in an evacuation zone and so they’re trying to keep in touch with everyone in the midst of assessing needs.”

Holland says prayers are still needed for everyone involved.

“The fire went from just 50 acres to 10,000 acres in one night,” he said. “My wife works at a hospital and the flames reached the parking lot. She described it as an Armageddon-type scene because the 60 mile-an-hour winds were pushing the flames into town.”

—–

Those interested in making contributions to assist those impacted by the wildfires can click here.

If you prefer to mail a check (please write DR000165 on the memo line), you may send it to:
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
P.O. Box 643700
Pittsburg, PA 15264-3700

You may also call Monday Through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (EDT), at 1-800-872-3283 and donate by phone.

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is able to respond quickly to emergencies because of gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing.


Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.